Outdoor Articles

Genetically-Engineered Deer Banned from Boone & Crockett Club Big Game Registry

by Pursue The Outdoors on January 21st, 2006 in Big Game Hunting

It’s opening weekend of bow season, and you are sitting in a tree on a deer lease in the early hours of the morning. It’s cold outside — so cold that you can almost see your breath turn into tiny ice crystals as you exhale. Your feet are frozen, and you can hardly feel your legs. But you barely notice. As you feel the base of the bow gently resting on your knee, you remember the majestic buck you saw yesterday when driving to your stand. You’ve paid the lease owner $3,000 with his guarantee that you’d kill a buck of record quality. Today, you have a feeling the money and the waiting will pay off.

Just then, in the breaking daylight, you see your buck step out of the thicket. He’s beautiful, and you adjust your grip slightly on the bow. But wait! Right behind him, there is another buck that looks almost identical in weight and rack-size to the first one. There is a third, a fourth, and a fifth buck. All of them are record-quality and look almost identical! As you blink your eyes to make sure you’re awake, you remember the lease owner mentioning that he’d cloned a perfect buck two years back. These, apparently, are the buck’s clones.

Scientists have been able to clone deer for a couple years now. In 2003, Texas A&M announced that it had cloned a whitetail deer. David Quammen of the Center for Genetics and Society interviewed Dr. Westhusin of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. Westhusin told Quammen that the fawn, named Dewey, was the first successfully cloned deer, and was a “genetic copy of his donor, a South Texas buck that was considered a huge trophy.”

To create the clone, Westhusin isolated cells from the donor buck’s scrotum, which had been sent to the facility in hopes of harvesting sperm. When Westhusin discovered he couldn’t harvest the sperm, he began attempts to clone the buck. Westhusin also implanted around twenty recipient does with embryos containing the buck’s clones. Westhusin planned to use these experiments to improve the health of animals. However, by improving the deer cloning process itself, Texas A&M is also preparing its lab to handle deer breeders’ requests for trophy buck clones and deer engineered to grow huge racks.

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There has been an ongoing debate about whether hunters who kill genetically-engineered deer should get credit in the record books. Ron Schara, Host of ESPN’s Outdoor Beat, said that “the big buck syndrome is as old as hunting. To clone big bucks would destroy that tradition and cheapen the joy of bagging a large deer.” While Schara doesn’t have a problem with people spending big dollars to shoot a clone within a fence, he feels that “the feat should not be recorded as a free range hunt accomplishment.”

The Boone & Crockett Club (B&C) is the premier registry for big game records. Most trophy hunters seek not only to have a big rack mounted on their walls, but also recognition in B&C’s books. I recently talked with Dale Grandstaff, a game warden with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Grandstaff, who is also an official B&C scorer, said that a land owner who possessed a B&C record-book-quality deer could possibly sell hunts for around $10,000. Also, a hunter who shoots and kills a buck that scores as the new world record for rack size would receive a “great deal of money from replicas, seminars, endorsements, and by selling the original rack.”

B&C already requires that deer be free-roaming to qualify for the registry. To preserve the tradition of natural deer hunting, B&C would only need to extend their guidelines to ban engineered deer from the registry. On January 4, 2006, I spoke with Jack Reneau, B&C’s Director of Big Game Records. Reneau stated that B&C will not recognize cloned, or otherwise genetically-engineered deer, in their books.

But what if a scientist engineered a new world-record-quality deer? Grandstaff noted that if a buck was shot and killed in an area considered fair chase, and scored a new world record in B&C’s books, that hunter would be instantly famous. “The hunter would make several hundred thousand from replicas, seminars, endorsements, and by selling the original rack.” Grandstaff believes this is practical problem, as a lab could secretly engineer a deer, drug it, and transport it to a free range hunt area. If the deer owners kept no records, photos, or other evidence that the deer was engineered, B&C would have no way of knowing.

One solution to this problem is for B&C to clearly acknowledge in their books and website their intent to reject engineered deer. Also, B&C could state that anyone who knowingly submits an engineered deer is committing fraud. That way, B&C does not have to take on the massive task of regulating the deer submissions. The fraud action itself would serve as a deterrent and hunters would most likely self-regulate.

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